- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Four leading Republican lawmakers yesterday delayed a bill that would reform U.S. export-control laws for fear the legislation would undermine national security by easing exports of sensitive technology to countries like China and Russia.
As a result, senators have scuttled plans to bring the Export Administration Act to the floor early this week and are huddling to hammer out a consensus. Supporters of the bill fear that a lengthy Senate negotiation could effectively kill it.
"The bill loosens export controls in some significant aspects," said Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. "Overall, we should be tightening controls."
The bill would re-establish the legal framework to regulate the export of "dual-use" technologies, which have both commercial and military uses. It contains provisions that business hopes will result in fewer controls on such high-tech goods as computers, chemicals and machine tools.
For example, it directs the president to loosen or even eliminate controls on goods, such as powerful personal computers, which reach a "mass market." And it calls for fewer controls on items that are clearly available from non-U.S. sources.
But the bill includes provisions that have drawn the ire of business, such as dramatically higher penalties for violating export-control laws.
Mr. Thompson was one of four committee chairmen who wrote Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, last week to object to the bill, which the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee passed in the fall. The chairmen of the foreign relations, armed services and intelligence panels also opposed the bill.
Banking committee Chairman Phil Gramm, Texas Republican and the bill's main sponsor, acknowledged that other senators would have to be included in deliberations on the bill, but he also charged that the lawmakers were muscling in for petty, turf reasons.
"The banking committee has exclusive jurisdiction here," said Mr. Gramm, who shepherded the bill through his committee.
Mr. Gramm is trying to address their objections, but the bill is unlikely to see floor action anytime soon. "The broth is brewing, but it is not yet done," said John Czwartacki, Mr. Lott's spokesman.
The previous Export Administration Act expired in 1994, so each year President Clinton has imposed export controls by executive order or through emergency powers.
Because the president uses those powers, Congress has had little incentive to pass the legislation, so a delay in getting it through the Senate could be fatal. The House has yet to take up the matter.
Efforts to pass the bill in previous sessions have failed because of tensions between national security and commercial interests.
Typically, the bills have gained only the tepid support of business lobbyists, who then jumped ship when members of Congress concerned about national security sought to tighten controls.
Ed Rice, who heads a business group called the Coalition for Employment Through Exports, said the bill is important for business because it would lock into place presidential actions that have been taken in the absence of the bill.
"The bill contains important reforms that should be enacted," he said.

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